Ten months ago, forty five long weeks ago, when I prised your little hand from mine and left you there on your first day at school, I had no idea what this coming year had in store. When you cried that first morning, I told myself it was to be expected, that it was such an over whelming change, that it would be crazy to assume you would settle instantly, that it would, of course, take time.
As days turned to weeks and the other children no longer clung to their parents each morning in the same way that you did, I told myself that some children simply take longer than others to settle, that this too would pass. When you sobbed each night and begged me not to send you to school the next day, I assumed that you were over-tired, over dramatic, that you were simply adjusting to the long days in school.
As the months crept by, with the changing of the seasons, the changes in you soon became apparent. You no longer had a skip in your step or a twinkle in your eye, I couldn’t remember the last time I heard you laugh, really laugh, or be silly with your siblings. All of a sudden you followed me from room to room, standing at the door whilst I used the toilet, begging to come with me when I nipped to Tesco, waking in the night and calling my name. When I caught you unawares, your sad little face cupped in your hands, sucking on your fingers in a way you hadn’t done for years, my heart broke for the little girl I felt I was losing
As Christmas came around I had so looked forward to watching your first nativity, to see you up there on the stage, my beautiful little angel, singing along amongst your friends. As the day approached you pleaded with me not to make you do it, to let you stay at home, told me that you felt too poorly, too sad, too scared. And I had told you that you must go, reassured you that it would be fine, that it would be fun, that you’d enjoy it. And sitting there in the audience, I can’t tell you how genuinely sorry I was to see you up there, your little face frozen with fear, your bottom lip quivering and your eyes brimming with tears, looking at me with a face that quite clearly said, “You lied.”
When I tucked you into bed that night and felt my neck damp beneath your tears, I questioned why we were putting you through this, why we were putting us through this. For although your teachers told me that you were fine once you had settled, that you were just a very shy little girl struggling to settle in, that wasn’t you at all. They had never seen you dancing and singing and acting out your wild imagination. They had never seen you bounce around like a little ball of energy, being silly and giggly and a little bit cheeky. They had never seen you before to know that the sad little girl who came to school each day wasn’t my daughter at all.
And there was nothing that we didn’t try. We exhausted reward charts, special treats, the promise of days out, new toys and outright bribery. We quizzed you every single day, why don’t you like it baby? What is it that makes you so sad? And yet you would sit there, your big blue eyes searching mine, your little mouth down turned, silently pleading with me to just understand that this was so hard for you, that you couldn’t put it into words, that you were still just a baby after all.
There were times when little chinks of the old you crept in, during half term or on a weekend, when you would surprise me by leaving go of my hand as you ran ahead, looking back at me with that cheeky little smile that we hadn’t seen in such a long while. On Christmas morning when you jumped for joy at finally getting your Hatchimal, on your birthday when we surprised you with your very own iPad, at your party when you blew out your candles and the tiniest of smiles crept across your face. And those moments kept me going, reminded me that this wouldn’t last forever, that you were still in there, we just needed to find a way to help you regain your confidence.
In the spring when you announced that it was your class assembly, you were so excited for me to come and watch. You sang the songs to me at home on repeat, recited the play word for word, told me the story of the billy goats gruff and the big bad troll. And as each child stood up to say a line, some in a shy little whisper, some at the tops of their voices, I felt a lump brewing in my throat. I remember how the Mum sat beside me had nudged me with her elbow, knowing just how much this would mean to me, my camera at the ready to capture the moment. And yet when it came to your turn you remained seated, your little face rigid with fear, silently waiting as the child beside you stood up and said his line, skipping right past you, and that moment just broke me.
And so rightly or wrongly, I simply accepted that this was our life now, the tears becoming part of our daily routine, the tantrums and outbursts, the crying at bedtime, the refusal to join in or take part in all of the firsts that I had been so sure you would love. Each day the same, “Did you enjoy school today?”, I would ask you, silently hoping for a miracle. “No I hated it.” you would say, no discussion, no offerings of the things you had done, the friends you had played with, the food you had eaten or books you had read. And it was so hard for you, but it was hard for me too.
There were times when I dealt with it all wrong, days I pandered to your tears, when I lingered in the playground for a little too long, waiting at the gate until you disappeared from view; the times when I lost my patience, when I snapped at you in sheer frustration, when I told you that it was tough, you had to go to school, that it was time you stopped acting like a baby. It was such a learning curve for all of us, but it was me who carried that burden, me who felt that guilt, me whose little hand you clung to each and every morning.
And yet out of nowhere, over the last few weeks, I’ve seen a spring in your step on the way to school some mornings, the sound of your laughter as you join your friends in the playground; I’ve found you letting go of my hand a little bit easier, swallowing your tears a little faster, taking in a toy for Show and Tell. I’ve noticed you telling me a little more about your day, the cookie you had with lunch, the book you read with your teacher, sharing a joke that one of the boys had told you, telling me about the games you played, the reason for the sticker you wear so proudly on your chest.
And so yesterday, on your very first sports day, I had silently hoped that this would be the turning point, the moment that you would finally join in. Seeing you sat there in your blue t-shirt and pigtails, chatting away to your friend beside you, I couldn’t help but notice just how much you had grown, how much older you seemed, how breathtakingly beautiful you had become. And yet as your class stood up to race and I saw you remain seated, I felt my shoulders drop, a huge sigh of disappointment, tears pricking at my eyes.
And yet all of a sudden there you were, getting to your feet, edging towards the start line, lost in a sea of blue. And as you ran towards me, that determined little look on your face, your pigtails flying in the wind, I have never been more proud of you than I was in that moment.
Because regardless of how long it has taken you to reach this point, regardless of how big or small this achievement may seem to others, you, my darling girl, are amazing, in a million different ways, for a million different reasons. And yesterday you proved that you can do this.
So regardless of what happens in September, whether Year One brings new hurdles, new tears, new fears; whether no two days are ever the same, whether we start right back at the very beginning, one thing this year has taught me is that together, we can do this.
Looks like we made it, look how far we’ve come my baby……
I am so very proud of you.